Sometimes you can say a lot in just a few words or lines. You can also capture the essence of the talks at a conference in just a few quotes.
On April 3 and 4, LiisBeth covered the UN Global Compact Network Canada’s (GCNC) first-ever Gender Equality Forum held at the swanky new millennial-friendly offices of Deloitte Canada in downtown Toronto.
The GCNC was formed in 2013 to help the private sector (or more accurately the corporate sector based on membership fee levels and a $400-plus conference ticket) advance the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 10 Principles of the United Nations Global Compact.
There were over 300 well-suited participants (15% men) including 60 speakers (30% men) representing public, private and civil sectors. Close to 25% of those attending came from the US, UK, Germany, Africa, and as far away as China. Not surprisingly, the North American speakers seemed uniformly focused on the business case, or how a more gender-equal economy means more dollars for companies and countries. Interestingly, the European speakers seemed more concerned with how gender equality can help create a more just society and economy.
Speakers also talked about familiar issues at events like these including the need to close political representation gaps, the persistence of glass ceilings, the need to increase women’s labour force participation rates, the slow to change pay equity issue (full-time women workers in Canada earned an average of 74 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2014), and how violence against women are still at near epidemic levels worldwide, which creates a significant barrier when it comes to achieving a gender just economy. It is no doubt hard for women to worry about leaning in and climbing that career ladder in a mostly male-led work environment if they have experienced being beaten at home or assaulted on the streets. The Ambassador of the European Union to Canada, Marie-Anne Coninsx, said during her talk that violence against women was a priority concern for Europe given that one in three women in Europe are sexually assaulted after the age of 15. The Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that in Canada, the figure is one out of two women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16 and that this figure has not declined since 1999.
So apart from hearing about progress and setbacks in the gender equity space, what did we learn by being there? It can be summed up in these five quotes hand-selected from our transcript:
- “For gender equity policy initiatives and efforts to be sustainable, to be effective, whether it’s ending violence against women and girls or gender equality as a whole, they have to be one, intergenerational; two, cross-sectoral; three, multicultural; four, they have to include men and boys; and five, they have to rely on the power of stories to shift culture and to build partnerships.” —Maryam Monsef, Minister for the Status of Women
- “Absolutely I am a banker, so let’s be clear, I have no special academic credential as it comes to this subject.” —Michael Henry, HeForShe champion, and Executive Vice President, Retail Payments, Deposits and Unsecured Lending for Scotiabank
- “We have to understand the relationship men have with feminism. In many ways, the discussion still gets articulated as a zero-sum game. I think we have to be honest about [that] and recognize there is something that men are giving up. It’s called the patriarchy. So yes, there are things that men will need to give up, but at the same time, I think we need to acknowledge that feminism is the greatest gift that men have ever received.” —Michael Kaufman, author, co-founder of the White Ribbon campaign, public speaker and consultant
- “The European Union, for us, gender equality is a priority in our external policy. We are applying it in all our policies that we have dealing with peace, security in the general, sustainable development. Human rights is also a basic principle of the European Union. In conclusion, I also want to recall a quote by our president of the European Commission, [Jean-Claude] Juncker, who said on International Women’s Day that ‘gender equality is not an inspirational goal but is a fundamental right.’ I would add it’s a fundamental right, which we’d like to achieve globally.” —Marie-Anne Coninsx, Ambassador of the European Union to Canada
- “Change is hard. Change is difficult. Just think about the patterns we all follow when going to work, who we talk to, what we eat and how we think. The skills we need as a society has changed, but the way we look at family patterns and responsibilities have not changed that much. This is a huge opportunity for the smart firms to help us see and respect new role models.” —Helle Bank Jorgensen, President, Global Compact Network Canada
The organizer of the conference, Danish-born CEO of GCNC, Helle Bank Jorgensen, 44, is passionate about the issue of gender equality and equity. Jorgensen was the first female partner at PwC, a global accounting and assurance firm, plus the first partner to have a child. While running her own company, B.Accountability, she took the steps to have the enterprise become certified by WeConnect as a women-owned business, which can open up opportunities for government contracts through diversity procurement policies.
Jorgensen came to Canada four years ago from New York, where she led PwC’s US Sustainability and Climate Change practice. When we asked Jorgensen about her views on why progress has been so slow despite decades of effort, she said, “It is both sad and hard to understand why companies and society are leaving a lot of talent and money on the table. The companies that will succeed in the future will learn how to make use of 100% of the available talent. Or as Richard Branson says: ‘Every company has the potential to change the world, and will not survive if it doesn’t.'”
Yes, every company can change the world, even those with two to 100 employees, which by the way, represents the vast majority of all incorporated enterprises in Canada.
For more information about the UN Global Compact Network Canada, its sponsors, members and programs, click here.